Strangers on a stage

Lob’s band Instagon plays musical chairs going on 18 years

Instagon’s Lob sometimes finds himself up against the wall trying to put together lineups for gigs.

Instagon’s Lob sometimes finds himself up against the wall trying to put together lineups for gigs.


Instagon plays with his other band Garage Jazz Architects, plus Ritual Waste and Odd Moniker this Friday, May 6, 8:30 p.m. at Naked Lounge Downtown, 1111 H Street; $5.

Bizarre, free-form Sacramento jam band Instagon is never the same band twice. In the 18 years the band has existed, it’s played 568 shows and has had more than 565 different people be in the band at one time or another. Lob, the one and only consistent member of Instagon, describes it as “the band you cheat on your band with.”

“I’ve never had the same players on stage ever,” he said. “There’s lots of people that have played numerous times, but never the exact same lineup on stage.”

There are no rehearsals or any pre-written songs, either. Lob, who is the lead bass player, gives them riffs to play off, teaches them a few basic cues, and tells them to have fun and go at it. What comes next depends entirely on the chemistry of the musicians that night.

People that have played in Instagon run the gamut from brand-new musicians to seasoned professionals. Some bigger names include Greg Ginn (from Black Flag), Rikk Agnew (from Social Distortion, D.I.), Jim Kaa (from the Crowd), Stoo Odom (from the Graves Brother Deluxe), Tomoharu “Gian” Ito (from Electric Eel Shock) and even the guys from Sublime.

The resulting musical experiment may be something jazzy, noisy, ambient, rocking, surf, punk rock, dark, twisted, goofy or anything at all. It might even be a little of everything. But whatever it is, it will be unrepeatable, which is exactly what Lob wants.

“It’s kind of like what the Grateful Dead has. They have this thing on stage that happens that doesn’t happen on their records. Anybody that’s ever seen the Grateful Dead will tell that to you,” Lob said.

Unlike the Grateful Dead, who also have actual, rehearsed songs, Instagon’s set is completely jam-based. It can be rather intense for an audience.

“Sometimes it’s a little hard to interact with the audience. It’s a little different than they’re expecting. It’s a little self-indulgent,” Lob said.

In order to conduct such a weird fluctuating musical project, Lob is always on the lookout for new people to play with. Sometimes he’ll see potential members when he’s watching new, interesting bands.

“Some players are young, and I give them that opportunity ’cause they’ve never gotten to jam with a band,” said Lob.

One such person is Kevin Ian from the Sacramento post-punk band the Common Men. He’s played in Instagon twice. Lob saw the Common Men play, liked Ian’s creative approach to the guitar and wanted to see what he could do in a setting with a lot less structure.

“He plays a wall of pedals. He’s like, ‘I can do whatever I want with my pedals?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ He had a lot of fun,” Lob said.

Finding musicians that will make a great addition to an Instagon set doesn’t necessarily have to do with how long they’ve been playing or how well-trained their chops are. It has to do more with their ability to listen and hear when the jamming is reaching the perfect moment.

“There is a frequency of energy that happens between musicians. You want to ride it without getting thrown off. There are moments in old Deep Purple live recordings that are like nothing else. It’s sonic. Some players just get it,” Lob said.

While it seems that players from jam bands would be the first on Lob’s list, that isn’t always the case. Though he likes jam players, sometimes their approach to improv can be predictable. Non-jam players often have a totally unique take on jamming since they’re not used to doing it.

“I love to take guys out of their element. It’s fun to take a punk rocker or a metalhead and put them in this weird jazzy, noodly situation,” said Lob.

But if Lob has a gig lined up and still hasn’t found enough people to play with him, he’ll do whatever he has to do to put a band together.

“I’ll go to Craigslist and find somebody I never met, never heard of, don’t know anything about,” Lob said. “It’s like, ‘All right. Live on stage in three days.’”

In 18 years, Instagon has evolved quite a bit. There is a limited structure in its current form, but in the early days there was none. Lob used to gather everyone he knew that played an instrument, get them on stage and tell them to go.

“We used to be a screaming child ready to go into bars and chase everyone out. I remember once emptying an 80-lane bowling alley in 20 minutes. We were so proud,” Lob said.

In those early shows, Lob didn’t yet play the bass. He would hit objects or pound on a keyboard. But as Instagon has evolved, so has Lob’s musicianship. He’s become a competent bass player, though has never gotten formal training.

“I don’t’ know what I play. I play by ear. So I couldn’t tell you what I was playing at all,” Lob said.

Lob describes the current state of Instagon as the “grown-up” version, since he no longer cares to be antagonistic to the audience.

“Now we push buttons, but in a different way,” Lob said. “It makes musicians go, ‘What are they doing?’”

Instagon began in Orange County. Five years ago, Lob relocated to Sacramento, and so did Instagon. When he was living in Orange County, he was tightly connected with the punk/indie-rock crowd, but up in Sacramento, he’s gotten to know a lot of people from the jazz/experimental scene. It’s affected his view on what the perfect lineup should be. It includes a guitar player, a drummer, him on bass and a horn player. Maybe a keyboardist if he can find one. But he still stays true to the rule that no two shows will ever have the same members.

“It still has moments of chaos involved with the jams, but I have a lot more control over it now,” Lob said.

The most recent change for Lob is that he’s put together a more standard trio called the Garage Jazz Architects. Though improv is involved, they have more solid songs and the same lineup every show.

“The audience knows what to expect. They know who to expect, and it’s getting a better response. I should have done it 10 years ago, but it wasn’t in the cards 10 years ago to have a solid lineup,” Lob said.